to test a new story line. Even a lucky turn in videogames won’t free the streaming giant from the need to keep playing Hollywood’s game, though.
Netflix used its second-quarter report Tuesday afternoon to confirm previously reported plans to enter the videogame business. No timing was given, though the company said the offerings would be included in its current subscription plans at no additional cost. The company isn’t backing away from its work on movies and TV shows, but said in its letter to shareholders “since we are nearly a decade into our push into original programming, we think the time is right to learn more about how our members value games.”
That news comes as Netflix remains mired in somewhat of a post-pandemic slump. It added 1.5 million net new paying subscribers in the second quarter, which was a bit better than it had forecast but still its lowest level of growth in nearly a decade. It also projected 3.5 million net adds for the third quarter—about 29% less than what Wall Street was hoping for. That would bring the total number of new subscribers to about nine million for the first nine months of 2021. Netflix added more than 28 million paying subscribers in the same period last year.
A foray into games might make sense for a company with an intimate knowledge of the viewing habits of a user base that now numbers over 209 million. It is also a tough business to crack—even the mobile gaming market that Netflix says it expects to target initially. There are many participants, but most of the money is still made by long-established properties. Games like “Candy Crush” and “Clash of Clans” remain in the top-five grossing charts even after nearly a decade on the market.
Netflix will need to keep battling it out for video streaming eyeballs. The company expects its pace of new releases to pick up in the second half of this year; analysts from Wedbush count 42 original shows and movies expected for the third quarter alone. But the company still has its own track record to compete with: Last fall included popular shows such as “The Queen’s Gambit,” “The Crown” and “Bridgerton.” Netflix shares are down nearly 2% this year, lagging behind many internet and entertainment peers. Streaming investors hyper-focused on subscriber growth aren’t playing games.
and romance have long been a match made in heaven, but now the streaming giant is taking things to another level.
Perhaps emboldened by the success of recent shows like “The Circle” and “Love Is Blind,” Netflix is now doubling down on dystopian reality dating. According to the trailer, released this week, the new concept will feature “real life singles,” sporting “elaborate makeup and prosthetics” and putting blind date chemistry to the test.
As if dating weren’t already hard enough, contestants on “Sexy Beasts” are expected to find love while looking like a panda or a mouse. The trailer features a suave alien in a bowling alley chatting to his date, an apparent cross between a dolphin and a platypus, stating that “personality, for me, is everything.” Others—especially a beaver who candidly describes his favorite physical feature—are at least honest.
If nothing else, viewers will be in it for catfights.
Entertainment has clearly indicated it is shopping around. When the company landed a deal on June 1 to sell about $231 million worth of shares to Mudrick Capital, Chief Executive
proclaimed that it is time for the largest theater operator in the U.S. to “go on the offense again.” He noted at the time that the company was in discussions with multiple landlords to take over some theaters formerly operated by ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theatres.
That deal may be near done. The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that AMC was nearing a deal for “key” Pacific theaters in the area. Two of the theaters were even listed on AMC’s site and ticketing app for part of the day before being taken down, the paper reported. They are unlikely to be the last, considering AMC’s acquisitive history and now bulging coffers. Chief Financial Officer
told a Credit Suisse investment conference this week that the company will end June “in the ballpark” of about $1.8 billion in cash, according to the broker’s report of the conference. AMC had about $308 million on its balance sheet at the end of 2020.
The wisdom of AMC pursuing more acquisitions is debatable. The company entered the pandemic with a ratio of net debt to earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of 5.7 times at the end of 2019—twice that of competitor Cinemark, according to data from S&P Global Market Intelligence. Much of that stemmed from three acquisitions totaling about $3.2 billion in 2016 to 2017. AMC as a result was flirting with bankruptcy before the explosion of interest from retail investors ballooned the stock, which is now up more than 2,700% for the year. Eric Handler of MKM says AMC should use the new bounty to pay down its debt load that now totals about $5.5 billion, adding in a June 8 report that the company’s past deals have “produced subpar returns.” Mr. Aron has said AMC intends to use some of its funds to pay down debt.
Still, the opportunities may be tempting for all the major players. The National Association of Theatre Owners, or NATO, estimates about 125 exhibitors have closed permanently due to the pandemic. Emagine Entertainment, a privately held chain of 208 screens based in Michigan, has picked up four sites from competitors out of bankruptcy, according to Chief Executive Anthony LaVerde, also speaking at the Credit Suisse conference. Cinemark has been conservative with M&A historically, but its CEO,
told the same conference that the company is “really open” to opportunistic deals in the current environment. He added, though, that “we’re not going to overpay for assets.”
Adding screens could theoretically boost the bargaining power of major theater operators with studios, at a time when shrinking release windows and soaring popularity of streaming services has muddled the long-term outlook for the industry. And the relatively strong performance of the few blockbuster-sized releases that have hit theaters so far this year has been an encouraging sign.
But it may take a lot of deals to have an impact. AMC, Cinemark and Cineworld’s Regal chain already control about 48% of U.S. screens combined, according to Wedbush analyst Alicia Reese. And most of the operators who have closed have fewer than 100 screens, according to NATO spokesman Patrick Corcoran. Ms. Reese says operators with between 50 and 250 screens would be most attractive to companies like AMC, Regal and Cinemark. But even adding 250 screens would boost each chain’s domestic market share by just one percentage point. Paying down debt may be safer, but it makes for a less exciting show.
Corrections & Amplifications The National Association of Theatre Owners was misspelled as National Association of Theater Owners in an earlier version of this article. Also, the last name of the group’s spokesman, Patrick Corcoran, was misspelled as Cochran. (Corrected on June 18)
chief executive, has decided to run with the meme-stock bulls who helped his company avoid bankruptcy during the pandemic.
More than any CEO swept up in the meme-stock trade, Mr. Aron has come to represent the surrealism and opportunities of modern-day trading. He is a Harvard Business School graduate now known for sharing social-media memes of Reddit in-jokes. He has traded a Chinese real-estate firm, the Dalian Wanda Group, for three million individual investors he calls his community. He has promised the new shareholders dividends and free popcorn.
And it has helped the world’s largest movie-theater chain emerge from its pandemic hole. AMC raised $587 million Thursday through another stock sale effort, its seventh in nine months, adding up to more than $2.2 billion total since it began its stock sale efforts in August. The sale comes on the heels of a recent rally that brought
“Fearless leader, we trust your process!” one Twitter user posted Thursday in a reply to Mr. Aron’s tweet about raising capital. “Guide us to the moon!”
It was the latest twist in what has become one of the most unusual relationships on Wall Street. Mr. Aron said in an April interview that he viewed the individual shareholders as “my bosses. They’re who I work for.” Now, Mr. Aron contends with the new challenge of keeping a fragmented investor base happy amid extreme stock volatility and challenges to the movie-theater industry, including getting people back to cinemas post-pandemic and dealing with the growing threat from at-home streaming.
The latest stock offering sold out within hours of being announced but pushed the price down by 18% Thursday to $51.34. Some individual investors who tout the stock on social media and forums like Reddit’s WallStreetBets hub took to the internet to complain about the company diluting the share count, while others cheered the company and Mr. Aron.
AMC has embraced the individual investor horde, now the majority of its investor base, to bring its movie theater business from the brink of bankruptcy to a well-capitalized company riding the economic reopening and shopping around for potential acquisitions. “Growth through acquisition is currently a priority,” Mr. Aron told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.
The CEO, known for raising money and wooing investors, has gotten its theater chain through the pandemic by capitalizing on AMC’s stock price surges to raise cash and nurturing connections with the company’s individual investors. He tweets to them both serious corporate rationales as well as photoshopped memes that rile traders seeking to drive up the stock and make quick profits.
Mr. Aron said he sees the individual investors as his potential customers. “And we are already thinking about ways that we can excite them and lure them back into our theaters again,” he said in the April interview. The company increased its outreach to individual investors on Thursday by opening a web portal to communicate with them and furnishing loyalty perks like free popcorn and exclusive screenings.
Still, AMC acknowledged the volatility of its shares and the unusual nature of being around 80% owned by individual investors. It warned in its filing for Thursday’s offering that investors shouldn’t buy the shares “unless you are prepared to incur the risk of losing all or a substantial portion of your investment.” Mr. Aron and AMC sold the shares after the latest sign that the moviegoing business can make a legitimate comeback. Memorial Day weekend box office sales in North America reached nearly $100 million, a new high since the pandemic.
“Not often do you have a CEO out there representing this particular demographic of people,” said Anton Torres, 33 years old, an AMC shareholder who works as a cable technician in Washington state. “It’s huge,” he said, referring to Mr. Aron’s efforts to reach out to the individual investor community.
Most corporate leaders caught up in meme-stock trading frenzies, such as the chiefs of
have largely avoided the spotlight. Mr. Aron has eagerly exploited his newfound status as a celebrity in online investing forums, embracing a shareholder base increasingly dominated by bullish traders.
He has posted memes on Twitter where his face has been put on “The Godfather” movie poster, renamed “The Apefather,” a reference to the AMC investor group that calls itself AMC “apes.” He also has posted an image of himself where his face was subbed for actor Sigourney Weaver’s on the movie poster for “Gorillas in the Mist.”
Even before Reddit leapt onto his company’s stock, Mr. Aron seemed ready-built for the internet meme world. In an exhibition industry populated by movie-theater industry lifers who tend to keep disputes behind closed doors, he got into public fights with Hollywood studio chiefs and floated ideas like having a phones-allowed texting row in AMC auditoriums. On conference calls with analysts, he quoted Winston Churchill and described disappointing quarters as “no picnic.”
For those who have worked with Mr. Aron, the outreach employs a skill set of working with investors honed over many years as the CEO of various companies in far-flung sectors. When Mr. Aron got the AMC job in late 2015 after working as CEO of Starwood Hotels & Resorts, he essentially had one shareholder to keep happy:
the Chinese billionaire and head of Dalian Wanda Group, then the majority shareholder in AMC.
Mr. Wang was known as an idiosyncratic boss, as likely to take meetings with subordinates in the karaoke lounge as in the boardroom. Mr. Aron won him over, colleagues say, and frequently traveled to China for in-person meetings.
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On social media, AMC believers can be seen bragging that they saved the company from bankruptcy earlier this year, propelling a capital raise in January after the company warned it could file for chapter 11 if it didn’t receive a sufficient cash infusion.
However, the company’s feedback from its backers hasn’t been all positive. Some users have complained on social media about AMC’s decision to exploit the rally in its stock to raise capital, which pressures the share price.
After announcing a stock deal with hedge fund Mudrick Capital Management LP on Tuesday, some online accounts posted messages that AMC should lay off selling equity and just watch its stock price rise, squeezing out short sellers—or those betting that the company’s stock price will fall—and driving the shares even higher. Those messages continued after Thursday’s equity sale.
“We have helped save AMC,” one Twitter user posted in a reply to Mr. Aron Thursday. “You’re making me and most likely millions of other shareholders disgruntled.”
“Seriously we got the company this far let us have our squeeze,” another said.
in 1997. A few years after founding the company, Mr. Hastings reportedly offered to sell Netflix to Blockbuster, then at its peak with 9,000 U.S. video stores, for $50 million.
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Fast forward 21 years and one of the most-watched documentaries last month on Netflix, now valued at $239 billion, was “The Last Blockbuster,” about one lone outpost of the bankrupt chain hanging on for dear life in Bend, Ore. One could view it as the ultimate irony that Netflix is getting even richer at the expense of the company that it helped bankrupt after being rebuffed, but the documentary has given the now-independent store a shot in the arm. The Oregonian reports that business has been booming the past two weeks since the documentary took off on Netflix, with sales of retro Blockbuster merchandise flying off the shelves.
If you’re one of the few people in America without a Netflix account, you can even rent a copy of “The Last Blockbuster” there.
: AMC shares were up 365% from the start of the year before the company’s fiscal fourth-quarter report Wednesday afternoon. But those results were never going to justify the action. Revenue plunged 89% year over year to $162.5 million.
AMC’s near-term results are less important than its prospects for reviving an exhibition business following a yearlong shutdown. That recovery may be more challenging given that most of Hollywood’s studios now have their own streaming outlets to feed.
So it was a bit surprising that AMC gave a shout out to incoming Warner movies on its conference call Wednesday. That included “Godzilla vs. Kong,” which is set for release on March 31. AMC Chief Executive
said “You should probably assume that if we’re playing Warner movies, we came to agreement with Warner that any changes in their strategy are being done in ways where AMC shareholders benefit as opposed to are being penalized.” He declined to discuss further details, but added later that concessions would likely show up in the fees AMC pays to rent movies.
Film rentals are typically a theater’s largest single cost item.
estimates that studios typically take 55% or more of the domestic box office on a major release. Exhibition costs consumed more than 50% of AMC’s annual admission revenue for the five-year period prior to the pandemic. So a break in costs could help the company’s gross margins at a time when it also is facing a much higher debt load, along with the need to make good on property rents that were deferred by many of its landlords due to the pandemic’s long shutdown.
It also helps AMC that WarnerMedia has been in damage-control mode, since the decision to put first-run movies on HBO Max angered many in Hollywood’s creative community. WarnerMedia CEO
Whether you love superhero movies or hate them, it’s become the norm over the last decade to get a new one every couple of months. That trend was upended in 2020. If you’re feeling a bit of withdrawal, here are some older classics you can revisit.
That’s slim pickings for a year that followed 2019, which brought us not only the biggest superhero movie, but the biggest movie of all time. So to make up for what we missed out on this year, we’re looking backward instead. The last 40+ years of superhero movies have delivered a lot of duds, but plenty of classics stand the test of time. Below are 10 of those films that are the best in their field, milestones for the genre, or even just weird enough to merit a rewatch.
Few superhero movies have aged as well as Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. On top of adapting the classic Spider-Man No More storyline, this film delivers Alfred Molina’s flawless Doc Ock. Superhero movies have come a long way from the unapologetically cheesy days of Raimi’s Spider-Man, but if you could go for a cornball story about keeping on when you feel like giving up, it’s hard to top one of the best superhero movies ever made.
The first Iron Man set the Marvel Cinematic Universe into motion, but it’s strange to rewatch now. The series opener was a more grounded story, centering around political conflict on Earth, rather than the grand space battle the MCU ended up at in recent years. Seeing the early days of Tony Stark—as well as reminiscing about the simpler time when superhero movies were about basic good-guy-bad-guy conflicts—could be a nice reprieve right now.
Before Spider-Man and X-Men movies kicked off a new wave of superhero movies in the 21st century, the original Superman in 1978 paved the way. The first superhero movie with a major studio budget, it remains a simple but powerful aspirational story. It also features the dorkiest scene in any superhero movie: Superman flying really, really fast around the Earth to reverse time. And you thought a talking raccoon was ridiculous.
Kick-Ass is the polar opposite of classic Superman films. It’s cynical, violent, and no one has any superpowers. Instead, the film lampoons the superhero genre, exaggerating the violence that would really occur if superheroes were real. Long before The Boyscame along, Kick-Ass was doing the gritty comedic comic book movie schtick.
Blade is too-often overlooked as a milestone in superhero movie history. It was a bloody, R-rated Marvel movie about vampires at a time when none of those things were cool. But you know what is cool? Blade. As played by Wesley Snipes. The movie was a hit, giving Marvel (then just a comics company) the fuel it needed to start funding hits like Spider-Man and X-Men. If you’ve enjoyed any Marvel (or really any comic book) movie over the last two decades, you have Blade to thank for it.
The title of “first superhero movie to earn a billion dollars at the box office” could hardly go to a more worthy contender. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, featuring Heath Ledger’s Joker, was a masterclass in taking comic book movies seriously. While dark and gritty was a bit overplayed even in 2008 when this movie came out, it’s balanced enough to still hold up today.
The X-Men movies run the gamut from pretty great to kind of awful, but if you want to hit one of the series’ peaks, X-Men: First Class is where it’s at. Set in the 1960s—and, incidentally, kicking off a trend of superhero movie period pieces—it follows the origin of the main cast from earlier X-Men movies, and inserting Professor X and Magneto into the Cuban Missile Crisis. It may have broken the X-Men timeline (further), but it’s one of the better X-Movies.
Before Zack Snyder started working on the same moviefor 7 years, he directed the lengthy Watchmen movie. The comic of the same name was considered unadaptable, and while the film still has its flaws, it brought the story to life in a visually stunning way few comic book movies have ever even attempted.
Did the headline on this article promise good movies? No. But it’s hard to argue that Howard the Duck isn’t important enough to warrant a revisit. The first full-length feature movie based on a Marvel Comics property—yes, really—Howard the Duck is a bizarre, ridiculous movie that has to be experienced at least once in life. It might not be cinema, but at this point it’s better than rewatching The Office for the hundredth time.
Hold on, The Matrix is a superhero movie? Well, kind of. It might not come from the usual background of comics (usually from Marvel or DC), but it broke new ground on the physics-defying acrobatics that have come to characterize modern superhero films. There was a time when comic book movies were seen as too silly or too impossible to film effectively. The Matrix changed that.
Also, you can’t fly or stop bullets and not call yourself a superhero. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.